Never to Experience a Nuclear Accident Again
Ishimori Comprehensive Law Office
1. Memories from my time at law school
The year I entered the Chuo Law School was the year I turned 26. I had already taken the former bar examination five times, and mentally I was thinking there was no way out. However, I don’t know if it was because many of the students had already studied for three terms like me and had a similar background, but I had an inexpressible feeling of solidarity with my friends. For the two years before I entered the Chuo Law School I had spent almost every day confined to the library, not speaking to anyone, and so I have happy memories of entering law school and making many friends who had the same goals as me.
My time at law school was a period for thoroughly brushing up on the knowledge and ideas I had accumulated up to that point, bit by bit. My lifestyle was extreme, coming in to the self study room at eight in the morning and going home at around midnight, but I am thankful to my parents for allowing me an environment where I could immerse myself in my studies all day.
I teamed up with three of my classmates who were particularly good friends to attend a seminar, and everyone led the lives of students, working frantically and applying ourselves to our studies. After graduation, of course I was happy that I myself had passed, but above all is the memory that all my good friends from the seminar were able to pass too.
I am particularly grateful to Honda, the teacher in charge of the class, the teacher of administrative law, Onuki, the teacher of criminal law, Okumura, the teacher of corporate law, Osugi, and the teachers of labor law, Yamada and Toyama. I can never thank them enough.
2. In a nuclear accident, common sense breaks down
My birthplace is Fukushima Prefecture. After I had graduated from law school, I felt like I wanted to repay my parents, and in December of 2009 when I had finished my judiciary apprenticeship I registered as a lawyer, and began a life as a practicing lawyer in Fukushima Prefecture.
Soon after that I also got married, and in February 2011 it was confirmed that my wife was pregnant.
Even as my new life was beginning, on March 12, 2011 there was a hydrogen explosion in the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear reactor number one, and there was great chaos in the city of Koriyama where we were living. I soon evacuated my pregnant wife to Hiroshima City where her parents’ home was, but I decided that I myself would continue acting as a lawyer in Fukushima Prefecture.
Lawyers have an important obligation in judicial activities. At the time I was thinking, “For a lawyer to run away first while many citizens remain would be behaviour that would cause people to lose their trust in the administration of justice.” Plus, Fukushima Prefecture was my birthplace, and so the thought of leaving my hometown never crossed my mind.
There was considerable confusion following the nuclear accident, and afterwards we lived our lives assuming that an even more serious accident was going to occur at Fukushima Daiichi. During this time I received several phone calls from staff at the office where I was working, telling me in raised voices that “We can’t get gasoline, so if it comes to a point where we have to evacuate we won’t be able to!” There were times when I drove to Niigata Prefecture to procure gasoline, along the public highway which had become ramshackle because of the earthquake.
Following the nuclear accident I also experienced jobs where I had to enter the evacuation areas, where radiation was markedly high.
Up until the nuclear accident occurred I had never even thought about the safety of nuclear power, and to state it clearly, I think that I had been indifferent. Having lived swallowing the nuclear safety myth propagated by the state and the power companies, for me, it was a big event that changed my life.
3. The bitter decision to migrate to Hiroshima
At the time of the earthquake, I had a vague thought that once a year or so had passed there would be a concrete and clear policy concerning decontamination, and the effect on the human body of the radioactive material scattered over Tohoku and Kanto and focused on Fukushima Prefecture. However, though time passed the situation did not improve, and we continued to live in a state of not knowing the details at all.
Also, I myself was a victim, my wife and child evacuated, and it was a frustrating situation having increasingly less time and not being able to do enough to support the victims.
I could not easily come and go between Fukushima and Hiroshima, and as a result in March 2013 I left the office where I had been working up until then, and in May of the same year I opened my current office in Hiroshima.
While with my final decision I made the choice to prioritize protecting my family, it was tough leaving Fukushima, which was my hometown, and where many citizens were in distress because of the earthquake and nuclear disaster. Although I was protecting my family, in making the decision to leave the disaster-stricken area that was my hometown for my own good, I felt that I would not be worth being a lawyer, and my future seemed bleak.
4. Thinking about the state of the nuclear disaster from Hiroshima
However, soon after I moved to Hiroshima, a lawyer from the Hiroshima Bar Association asked me to participate in operations supporting disaster victims who had evacuated or migrated to Hiroshima because of the serious accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant. With this as the starting point, I became engaged in support operations for those victims of the nuclear disaster who had evacuated or migrated to Hiroshima. I saw and heard firsthand the pain and conflict of many of the families who had escaped from the nuclear disaster, and this was my opportunity to look again at myself and my position as a lawyer.
When considering the losses sustained by the nuclear disaster victims, TEPCO distinguishes between those areas that were forcibly evacuated, and other areas. In the areas where evacuation was compulsory, the freedom to relocate your residence is forcibly obstructed, so TEPCO is making substantial reparations. However in the other areas, even supposing that people are living with high levels of radioactivity, TEPCO says that the effects on health have not been proven and so their attitude is that “We have no responsibility to pay damages.” They are paying only a very low amount of compensation to citizens who were living in parts of Fukushima Prefecture.
However, even if the damaging effect on health due to the spread of radioactive materials is not proven, it does not mean that it does not exist. The effect of radiation on the human body being generally unclear, the people living in the nuclear disaster areas feel extremely worried. That worry can sometimes lead to conflict within families, and can destroy communities. Fears about the scattered radioactive materials cannot be easily dispelled, and I think that my mission now is to obtain legal recognition of the losses of those who lived in the areas in question, and those who are still living in those areas.
Furthermore, looking at the government and Diet accident reports, which gather the details preceding the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, I am angry, as I feel that the involved parties closed their eyes to the risk of a nuclear accident and misled us, saying that there was no risk.
5. Never to experience a nuclear accident again
As a result of the grave Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, many people are suffering even now. Their circumstances vary: there are those who were pessimistic about their future because of the nuclear disaster and committed suicide, those who divorced due to differences of opinion concerning bringing up children in areas affected by radioactive materials, and those whose relations with the communities they were living in up till then have been severed due to the evacuation.
As someone who has come to see that kind of invisible damage, I believe that we in Japan never want to experience a similar disaster again.
Against the background of having caused this nuclear disaster, I think that the entire country lacks the power to imagine that a nuclear accident may occur. If the entire population had thought, “If there’s an explosion at the nuclear power plant nearest to where I live, what will happen to our lives?” then I think that a nuclear disaster would not have happened in the first place.
Because of that, I live my day to day life feeling that my responsibility lies not only with lawsuits, but also that I must strongly persevere in communicating to people the reality of the damage caused by the nuclear disaster.
Ishimori Comprehensive Law Office
■A brief personal history
Yuichiro Ishimori was born in Kagamiishi-machi, Iwase-gun, Fukushima Prefecture in 1979.
He graduated from the School of Law, Waseda University in 2002.
He graduated from the Chuo Law School in 2008.
He registered as a lawyer with the Fukushima Bar Association in December 2009.
He transferred registration to the Hiroshima Bar Association and established the Ishimori Comprehensive Law Office in Hiroshima in May 2013.
Currently, he serves as Chair of the Hiroshima Bar Association Anti-pollution Measures and Environmental Conservation Committee and a member of the Fukushima Nuclear Accident Hiroshima Lawsuit Defense Counsel.